We had quite the scare during our visit with Alicia tonight.
We got to the NICU a little late tonight. On our way up in the elevator, we figured they must have started visiting hours already, since it was well past 7:00 by the time we even got into the hospital building. But when we got up to the NICU, to our surprise the doors were still closed and parents were still waiting outside. Usually this means that one of the kids is needing treatment and the doctors need a bit more time to work on him or her. While we were waiting, a nurse came out and told us that they would be delaying visiting hours for five minutes, because they were in fact working on a kid.
Finally, after a few minutes they opened the doors and let us enter. We scrubbed our hands, put on our aprons and face masks and went over to our incubator.
The visit started out normal enough, Alicia had her eyes open waiting for us. We spoke to her and told her how much we loved her. But we noticed a couple of things that were off. First, her oxygen level was set at 100%, which usually means that she was having trouble breathing. Second, she wasn't eating. Most of the time our visits coincide with feeding times so when we get there, Alicia usually has a nice tube of milk slowly being fed into her body. But this time, no milk, and no tube.
When we asked the nurses about this, she explained that Alicia had been having problems breathing today and her oxygen levels were unstable, so doctors wanted to draw some blood to do some tests to see if there was a problem. So the doctor decided to let Alicia skip this one meal.
Linda, as any mother would be, was concerned about Alicia skipping the meal, so she kept asking more questions and even asked the nurse if she could have the doctor come over so she could discuss it more with her.
Well, good thing she did. Before the doctor could come over, Alicia's alarms started sounding. Her blood oxygen levels took a nosedive and her heartrate started to drop pretty quickly. After a month and a half in the NICU, I've become accustomed to Alicia's occasional dips and drops. In fact, she had a couple just in our time with her this evening. Usually what happens is that the levels drop, and either she'll start breathing and pick up the levels herself, or the nurses would come over and help. But for some reason, this time when the levels dropped, they just kept dropping.
The doctors and nurses went through the typical routine, when the alarms go off, they raised Alicia's oxygen levels on the ventilator and then gave a few extra pumps of air. But that didn't seem to help, so they moved on to bagging. Which means using a special resuscitation bag to gently push air into her lungs. In the past, this is all that it's taken to get Alicia back on track. Today, however after what seemed like an eternity, Alicia wasn't getting any better. In fact, when I looked at Alicia, she had turned really dark, almost black - a clear sign she was in distress.
By now visiting hours were over, but there was no way we were leaving, not while they were still trying to resuscitate our daughter. Knowing this, the nurses asked us gently if we wouldn't mind waiting outside while they worked on Alicia. Reluctantly, Linda and I grabbed our stuff and went outside.
Time couldn’t have moved any slower. I don’t even know how long we were out there. The 10 or 15 minutes we were probably waiting, felt like an hour at least. All sorts of thoughts went through my head as we stood there. It was as if our own lives were kind of hung in the balance the way Alicia's was at that moment. My inner dialog went back and forth between wondering if this was it, if Alicia was on her way back to heaven and reminding myself of the promises that God had given us about Alicia. I prepared myself for the worst and even pictured the doctors coming over and telling us that there was nothing more they could do and that Alicia was gone. But almost as immediately as that thought came another one replaced it and said that that didn’t make sense. People have been prophesying about Alicia from even before she was born. They’ve spoken words that we believe are from God. People have said that she has a powerful destiny here on Earth. And that Alicia shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord. In fact, Linda spoke this verse out loud to me while we were waiting. I knew in my spirit that Alicia was going to be fine, but I still couldn’t help but be shaken a bit by the interminable waiting.
Later, as I compared notes with Linda, she admitted too that she had a moment of surrender, a moment when she had to release control of Alicia’s life and give her back to our Heavenly Father. She told him, “Daddy, I really, really want Alicia. But if you are going to take her back then I surrender.” My woman. Amazing. While we were waiting, Linda and I tried to pray, but no words were coming. We said a few words, but to me, nothing felt adequate. We finally resorted, as we often do when there are no words, to praying in tongues.
I seriously, couldn’t stand still. I needed to know what was happening, but when I looked in through the glass doors, I couldn’t see what they were doing. So I’d try to sit. But after a few seconds of that, I was back on my feet. I felt like a caged lion. Just then a door opened and a man in a white coat wheeled in an X-ray machine and walked straight over to Alicia’s incubator. I thought, “OK. Good. If they’re doing an X-ray that must mean that she’s alive and they have fixed whatever was wrong.” So I calmed down a bit, but since there still wasn't any news, I was still pretty wound up.
Eventually, a nurse came out and told us that they had patched Alicia up, and that we could go in and see in her a few minutes. After hearing that I let out a huge audible sigh of relief. Our girl was OK.
Once we were back inside, one of our favorite doctors, Dr. Lin was there. She’d been on rotation in the upstairs nursery, but they had called her down to help out with this situation. She explained that the reason Alicia was having trouble breathing, and the reason their resuscitation wasn’t working was because her air tube had somehow been dislodged from her trachea and ended up in her esophagus. So instead of the air going to her lungs, it was getting pumped into her stomach. Once they got the tube back in the right place, she was good as new.
She said that they had been wondering what the problem was, because earlier in the day, she was actually doing really well with her breathing, but for some reason when it got to the evening her oxygen levels were really unsteady. Now they know why. They also told us, that Alicia was actually the cause of the delay in visiting hours today. She was the kid they had been working on. Her oxygen levels had dropped just before visiting hours, which explains the 100% oxygen setting on the vent.
When we asked how the tube could have gotten dislodged, they explained that her wind pipe is actually pretty short, so if she moves around too much, the tube can easily get pulled out or dislocated. I have my own suspicions. See, our little girl is getting bigger and more aware. And she, like any normal person, does not like having a tube down her throat.
In the past, Alicia hasn't done too much with the tube down her throat. She's maybe casually put her hand on it and grabbed it. But in the past she didn't have enough strength to really do any damage. Well, yesterday, when we got into the NICU, the first thing I saw was Alicia actually struggling like I’d never seen her struggle before, deliberately trying to pull out her tube. And when I tried to move her hand away from the tube, she actually fought against me. I’d never seen her do that before. Before it was always a casual grasping of the tube, that I thought was completely innocent. Just grabbing on to it, cause it was there. But yesterday, no, she wasn't just grabbing on, she was actually pulling. My little girl has got some fight in her. =)
So here’s my theory, Alicia in her attemps to pull out her tube, actually succeeded part of the way, and somehow, when the tube went back in, it went back down the wrong passage way into her stomach, instead of the lungs.
Anyway, the nice consolation after going through this trauma, was that we got to spend a bit more time with Alicia tonight. She was absolutely adorable when we went back in, all wide-eyed and innocent, looking at the doctors wondering what was going on. She has been so alert these past few days during our visits. I really feel that she’s getting bigger and bigger. It’s great to see.
She’s also breathing better and better...when the tube is in the right place. Earlier this morning, they tried taking her off the ventilator to see how she would do. Unfortunately, it was still a bit of a struggle for her, so they felt it would be better to leave her on for just a bit longer. The good news is that she’s really getting really good at catching herself when her oxygen levels drop. In the past, whenever her oxygen levels dropped, nurses would have to come over and give her some extra pumps from the vent or raise her oxygen levels. But over the past few days, when her levels drop she’s able to get herself back on track without any help, again when her tube in is in the right place. So that’s definitely improvement.
Her body is also getting more and more efficient at pulling oxygen from lower and lower oxygen saturation. Before she might have needed air that was 60% oxygen. But now she can do well on 30% oxygen. Regular room air is 21% oxygen, so when she can do well at that setting, she can get off the ventilator.
We just continue to pray for more growth and more improvement. Doctors did an X-ray on her tonight, and everything looks OK. They had originally worried that she might have a pneumothorax again, but the X-ray showed that everything was normal. So we’re thankful.
Tonight was hard. I’m not going to lie. As much faith as we have in our Heavenly Father, it’s hard not to get shaken a bit when something like this happens. We believe Alicia is going to thrive and grow and be a beautiful child. The challenge is to hang onto this faith when the circumstances seem to say otherwise. Seeing your daughter with doctors and nurses surrounding her, trying to get her to breathe again, it’s hard not to imagine the worst. Thankfully, Linda and I had each other. More importantly, we had the Lord. Because we walk with the Lord, though we were shaken, our lives do not come crumbling down. As it says in the Bible, we might have stumbled but we did not fall because the Lord upheld us with his hand.